The joke that killed political humor in America

Saying he is "sympathetic to late night comedians' struggle to find jokes to make about me," Sen. Barack Obama (D-Ill) today issued a list of official campaign-approved Barack Obama jokes.

The five jokes, which Sen. Obama said he is making available to all comedians free of charge, are as follows:

Barack Obama and a kangaroo pull up to a gas station. The gas station attendant takes one look at the kangaroo and says, "You know, we don't get many kangaroos here." Barack Obama replies, "At these prices, I'm not surprised. That's why we need to reduce our dependence on foreign oil."

-- Comedian Andy Borowitz

No doubt about it, the flap over that Obama New Yorker cover has created a crisis for political humor in this country. I actually seem to be in the minority in thinking that the cover was funny and an effective satire (there's a broader issue there I may write about when I come back full-time); I also tend to agree with Maureen Dowd (that's rare these days) and others who say it would be good if Obama and his supporters could lighten up a little.

Why don't they?

Forget Monty Python -- here's the real "killer joke" of American politics.

Al Gore invented the Internet.

Of course, he never really said that, but after a year of repetition from a brain-dead political media, amplified by late-night comics looking for punchlines about two pretty dull-seeming candidates in 2000, you'd be hard pressed to find a voter in November 2000 who didn't think Gore had really said that. It was one of a number of exaggerations and outright falsehoods that became running jokes about Gore in 2000, that he'd claimed cleaning up Love Canal, etc. It was a joke, perhaps, but Gore's credibility became a "serious" issue for enough voters that Gore lost Florida by a few hundred votes, lost the Electoral College, and George W. Bush became president.

Eight years later, 4,000 Americans and hundreds of thousands of Iraqi civilians are dead, New Orleans is still in shambles, and so is the American economy. Ultimately, all because of a "a joke."

It's just hard for people to laugh anything off anymore.